As readers of these pages have figured out by this point, one of my bugaboos about winter sports coverage has been figure skater commentary. The polite version is that Olympic champion Scott Hamilton did a very good job before the competition, but became largely close-lipped once the skating began. And Sandra Bezic was a waste of air-space, being passable beforehand but disappearing to near-silence during the skate, other than "Oh, my, how lovely." Anchor Tom Hammond never seemed to have a great sense of what was going on, other than how much time was left in the performance. The result is that figure skating was covered, not as the actual sport it is, with solid in-performance analysis and commentary, but an artistic pageant to be watched in silence.
Then, during the last winter Olympics in Sochi, I wrote about watching the secondary NBCsports cable channel coverage that was on during the day (rather than the main primetime broadcast), where anchor Terry Gannon headed up a team with Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, all of whom blew the primetime gropu out of the water. The intentional flamboyance of Weir could get a bit eye-rolling at times, but his friendship with Lipinski was clear and charming, and the rapport between all three was involving -- with Gannon seeming to have an idea of what was going on. They didn't talk as much as I'd prefer during each skate, but they did talk, and plenty enough -- and did it interestingly and objectively and entertainingly, so that you could follow the flow of what was going on.
And then not long later, it turned out that I wasn't alone -- because NBC surprisingly but properly replaced their primetiime team with Lipinkski, Weir and Gannon. And today (Saturday) is the first U.S. Nationals coverage that they have center stage.
This afternoon was the Short Program, and I turned in. (I missed the pairs free skate, which was earlier in the broadcast.) And it was a joy to see. The difference was profound. Again, I wish they talked more during each skate, but the fact that they talked at all -- and well -- and told you what was coming and how well (or poorly) each skater did each move and why, was a total pleasure. It turned a night of flouncy art into the sport it is. And before and after each skate, Lipinski and Weir's analysis was sharp and terrific. And Terry Gannon kept it all together really well.
It's worth noting that NBC, to its credit, still kept Scott Hamilton on the broadcast, but in the area he's best at, as a sort of "in-studio" analyst to give over-all perspective of the competition. (At this event, he wasn't actually in-studio, but off to the side in a corner of the rink with Andrea Joyce.) No Sandra Bezic in sight...
After the ladies Short Program, the coverage went over to Ice Dancing and...well, I have no idea. I turned it off. Ice Dancing is idiotic, no matter how "it's sooo pretty" it is. It's athletic and artistic, and requires talent, but it's not a sport. It's literally dancing the cha cha and tango, just on ice. I'm sorry, I don't care how pretty and skilled it is. It's no more an Olympic sport than is ballroom dancing.
Anyway, for thems what are interested in how this new team does for yourselves, you can tune in tonight for the Long Program finals. It airs during primetime, from 8-11 PM, East Coast time (tape delayed for the West Coast). The men's finals will be broadcast tomorrow afternoon, Sunday. That alone should tell you where figuring skating interest sits. The women are at the top of the heap.
And thankfully we finally have a broadcast team willing to tell you all about it.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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